BANGUI, Central African Republic — The president of the strife-torn Central African Republic quit under pressure Friday after regional leaders held him responsible for failing to halt the continuing sectarian violence in the country.
Michel Djotodia — whose chaotic nine-month rule in the impoverished country has been marked by abuses, including looting, killing, and kidnapping, of the mostly Muslim rebel movement he led to power — was pushed out after being summoned to neighboring Chad by that country’s president, Idriss Déby, a regional power broker.
Nearly 1 million people have fled their homes in the Central African Republic as a result of the violence, which has broadened to include reprisal attacks between Muslims and Christians. More than 1,000 people have been killed in the last month alone.
“Our country has never lived through anything like this,” said Alexandre Ferdinand Nguendet, the parliamentary leader who was named Friday to serve as interim president.
Noting that civil servants had not been paid in at least three months, Nguendet said the country was ready to “explode.” He will serve for two weeks until a new “transitional president” is chosen by the temporary Parliament.
Joyful crowds poured into the battered streets of the capital, Bangui, after Djotodia’s departure was announced. Residents hoped his removal would be a turning point in the fortunes of their country, which has seen more coups and episodes of violence than free elections since it gained independence from France in 1960.
But pent-up anger over months of repression was still evident. Crowds rushed toward a store owned by Muslims to loot it; members of Djotodia’s rebel group, Seleka, were pursued in the streets; and some tried to loot the Culture Ministry as armored vehicles from France’s peacekeeping mission here blocked them.
“He’s killed a lot of Central Africans, and he certainly targeted the Christians much more; he’s a devil,” said Thibault Bomako, a 27-year-old student.
Déby, who is often accused of meddling in his much poorer neighbor’s affairs, made it clear that he was fed up with Djotodia’s handling of his own Muslim rebels and of the increasingly violent reaction against them by Christian militia groups.
Chadians residing in the Central African Republic have been among the victims; thousands of Déby’s Muslim citizens have been forced to flee the country. Revenge attacks against Muslims take place almost daily here.
France sent more than 1,000 troops in December after a new outbreak of violence, adding to the force permanently stationed in Bangui.
This week, Déby convened other regional presidents, as well as Djotodia, in his capital, N’Djamena, to attempt a resolution of the crisis afflicting his neighbor. The conference accepted Djotodia’s “resignation” in a statement Friday, calling it a “highly patriotic decision to end the country’s paralysis,” and blasting the “passivity of the Central African political class faced with the crisis which has gripped the country.”
Déby even took the unusual step of flying the entire membership of the country’s transitional Parliament of 135 members to N’Djamena on Thursday night from Bangui, forcing them to work until the early hours of Friday to come up with a solution.
Djotodia, a former civil servant who rode into the capital with other Muslim rebels last March from the country’s remote north in a frenzy of looting, was hated from the start by the largely Christian population in the south. For months, he insisted that his rebel movement had been disbanded and pacified, even as its men continued daily pillaging and kidnapping in the capital. The deposed president, François Bozizé, has fled the country.
Reconciliation may not be easy. “Now we’ve got to detain the Seleka, and those who committed abuses must answer for them,” said Parfait Désiré Zoga, a shopkeeper.
Djotodia insisted that he was not eager to stay in power and was merely preparing the way for future elections.